Mother Teresa on Jesus is their Model by Edward Le Joly
The passages below are from the book “Mother Teresa—Messenger of God’s Love” by Edward Le Joly.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” —Revelation 22:13
The spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity as developed by Mother Teresa is essentially Christocentric.
1. In its origin and inception: the Call of Jesus to serve Him in the poor, the Road-to-Darjeeling event, yearly commemorated on its anniversary, the 10th of September as “Inspiration Day”. The Society recognizes that its existence is the result of that call Jesus made to Mother to serve him in the poorest of the poor.
2. In its purpose and aim which is to quench the thirst of Jesus for the love of men.
3. In its exemplar or model: the Christ of the Gospel, his life and teaching. The congregation endeavours to live the Gospel as thoroughly, as perfectly, as can be done today.
4. In its motive force found in Christ in the Eucharist and Christ in the poor.
Christ is the cause, the mainstay and the end of the Sisters’ vocation of their religious life and apostolic work.
1. The Call
The call of St Paul and that of Mother Teresa exhibit striking similarities. The Road-to-Damascus event and the Road to-Darjeeling event, both changed the direction of a life already dedicated to the honour and service of God. In both cases Jesus calls, commands, directs, informs. To Paul, Jesus indicates that the zealot of Yahweh’s cult persecutes him in his followers: “I am Jesus whom Saul persecutes” (Acts 9:5). To Mother Teresa, Jesus her bridegroom to whom she is wedded for life, commands: “Serve Me in my poorest brethren.” Jesus assumes what is done to his own, as done to himself.
In both cases the Lord gives an order. To Paul, he says “Go.” Mother on her part acknowledges, “It was an order.” The Lord commands.
They are both to be Christ’s instrument for the spread of the Good News. The Lord tells Ananias: “This man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and before pagan kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul’s mission is to be universal.
Mother has all along been deeply conscious of being the instrument of Jesus. Her purpose of procuring the glory of Jesus, which is limited in immediate scope to the spiritually and materially most needy, indirectly affects all sections of mankind. She has appeared and delivered her message before more kings, presidents and ministers and before larger audiences than any other religious founder.
What Paul and Mother are to do immediately, how they are to carry out their mission, neither of them knows. Paul is at first blinded and has to be led by the hand. Soon he is entrusted to Ananias and is baptized. Then the Spirit guides him. Mother similarly confesses, “I knew where I had to go; but I did not know how to get there.” She was not aware of how she was to fulfil God’s will; hence she required perfect trust and abandon to the divine guidance.
Both these “chosen vessels of clay” will have to share in the Passion of Christ for the redemption of the world. “I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my Name,” said the Lord to Ananias (Acts 9:16). Through Paul’s Letters we know how he had to suffer. He spoke eloquently of his floggings, stoning, shipwrecks, two nights and a day at sea, persecutions, dangers from every side, false brethren, disappointments from his helpers, and continual anxieties for the good of the churches he had established and nurtured.
After Paul’s example and wonderful teaching, inspired by the Holy Spirit, all religious souls know that the following of Christ implies to enter into the paschal mystery, sharing in the Passion and Death of Jesus, before experiencing the joy of the Resurrection. But only with discretion and deep respect for God’s action in souls can we speak of the share of a living person in the sufferings of Christ.
Mother has written more than once to persons especially tried by God, “Jesus must love you much, since he gives you such a large share in his sufferings.” Life has not been a bed of roses for one who rises daily at 4 a.m. to make the Stations of the Cross, work and pray the whole day and retire to sleep at 1 a.m. She has to shoulder the burden of many new foundations every year, travel extensively, appear hundreds of times before different audiences every year.
For both Paul and Mother, it was fitting, it was prophetical that God’s call should be made and heard on the road, which both would use to such an extent for the glory of Jesus who had called them to the apostolate. They both felt that their mission was universal: the world awaits the Good News of the coming of Christ, we must travel as far as we can, spreading the Gospel of Jesus in every land.
2. To Quench the Thirst of Jesus for Souls
When she came to Cambridge for the convocation at which she was to receive an honorary Doctorate in Divinity from Prince Philip, the Chancellor of the University, Mother went to the convent around midday. People came to meet her there, including members of the press. A reporter asked her, “What made you start your work, what inspired you and kept you going during so many years?” Mother answered, “Jesus?’
The reporter looked disappointed; he must have expected long explanations, but was told only one word. For Mother one word sufficed to sum up her whole life, to explain her faith, enterprise, courage, love, devotion, efficiency, single-mindedness: Jesus. Everything was due to him, every effort and sacrifice made for him. Mother expressed it again forcefully when she said, “Father, tell them: We do it for Jesus.” The sentence has become her motto, her watchword, the explanation she gives of the activity and the success of the Sisters, “We do it for Jesus”, everything, all the time.
3. Jesus is Their Model
Jesus is the exemplar or model the Missionaries of Charity are to follow: like Christ they bring hope, light, joy.
They have heard the astonishing words the Lord pronounced in the synagogue at Nazareth, after he had read the prophetic passage of Isaiah (61:1-2):
“The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me:
to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
to give new sight to the blind,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of grace.”
Then Jesus said: “Today these words are being fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-19, 21).
Following in the footsteps of Jesus, the Missionaries of Charity bring the good news of God’s love to men,
like Jesus they go about doing good,
like Jesus, they seek those in need,
they bring help to the blind, the lame, the lepers,
they provide food to the hungry and consolation to the abandoned.
In her spiritual teaching Mother likes to stress the humility of Jesus, who not only gives but come to ask, to ask so that he may give us. The gentle, kind, thoughtful Lord stops at the Well of Jacob to ask a person, to ask a sinner, “Give me to drink?’ And to dispel the woman’s astonishment, Jesus adds immediately. “If you knew who is the one who asks you, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus stoops to ask. In truth, he was physically thirsty, tired of walking, preaching the Good News, seeking souls. But he was still more thirsty for the love of men, asking us, “Give me to drink.” Yes, unworthy as you are, give me to drink and I shall fill you with the water of life and love, and energy.
Christ in the Garden asks us, “Wait here and watch with me awhile.” Watch—he asks for help, for comfort, for sharing in his agony, and finds himself disappointed by his very apostles. “You could not watch with me even one hour?” (Matthew 26:36,40).
Christ stoops to ask on the cross, issuing a call, a challenge, a request, “I thirst.”
And again today he tells us. “I stand at the door knocking; if anyone will open to me, I shall come in and share his meal” (Revelation 3:20). Lord, you ask in order to give yourself. Then we shall share with you and all we have, all we are and that will be perfect love.
Christ is the perfect example of love the Sisters must seek to imitate. “Love one another’ Mother pleads, “as Jesus loved us, who gave his life for us, when we were sinners. He gave his life, nothing less. So we should give what costs, costs much.”
4. Christ is the Motive Force of Their Life
“We could not do without him’ states Mother.
He inspires and sustains by his grace their detachment, their poverty, their trust, their cheerfulness, their service of the poor. Mother’s confidence in Jesus knows no limit. To his presence in her and her Sisters she attributes their strength and the remarkable fruits of their apostolate. She says, “We are able to go through the most terrible places fearlessly, because Jesus in us will never deceive us; Jesus in us is our love, our strength, our joy and our compassion.”
Mother opposes and reacts against the rather common modern tendency to anthropocentrism, naturalism, materialistic humanism, secular conception of man and the universe. Those who hold such ideas succeed in eliminating God from their world-vision, doing away at the same time with grace and faith and the supernatural. They centre all charitable and social activity on the service of man, a being whose origin and destination they ignore.
Mother’s conception of man is rooted in the Gospel, which teaches us the primacy of God, extols the beauty of God’s plan for mankind, proclaims the dignity to each and every human person. The two greatest commandments are those of love: love of God and love of the neighbour. The second commandment issues from the first. It has its root in the love of God, God seen in the neighbour, whoever, wherever, whatever he be.
Mother stresses that life-long devoted service of the poor requires a strong motivation, found only in faith. “Without faith no love; without love no service of the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the cripple, the dying. You can do our work two years or three years without religious motivation, but not a whole life-time. If you do not believe it, try to do it…?’
The work of the Missionaries of Charity is not centred on the poor as it has so often been represented in the press. “Mother Teresa saw the misery and poverty on Calcutta roads and her heart went out to the poor sufferers; she felt she had to do something about it…” No, this is not the correct story, not the right interpretation of this extraordinary activity, this wonderful work of charity, that goes on since thirty-five years and will go on much longer.
The truth is that Mother heard the appeal of Jesus deep down in her soul. The Lord called her to serve Him in the poorest of the poor and she answered, “Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord, prepared to quench your thirst for love, my Jesus, your thirst as you suffer in the poor, your brethren.”
“You cannot love two persons perfectly,” says Mother, “but you can love all men perfectly, if you love the one Jesus in them all.” This means that one should centre his mind and heart, his life and activity on Jesus, see him in every human sufferer.
Mother views all her work as centred on God, depending on him. “We are to be God’s associates, doing his work, working with him, for him?’ Having given themselves up to Jesus for life, without any restriction, the Sisters belong to him and belong to those in whom he lives. Mother wants the Sisters to devote themselves fully to those who represent Christ for them. She tells them, “Let the Sisters and the people eat you up.”
Again Mother tells her Sisters, “Just as the seed is meant to be a tree, we are meant to grow into Jesus.” The brides are to be moulded into the image of the divine Bridegroom, until as Paul says “Christ is formed in them,” so that they may be able to say in truth, “I live no more I, of my own life, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
The words “for Jesus” explain everything, are the main motivation of their life, which is wholly consecrated to him; whatever they do is for him. Mother repeatedly starts her talks to various audiences in different countries by making her position and that of her Sisters clear. She says, “We are not social workers, we are not nurses, we are not teachers, we are religious?’
Mother insists on a point of cardinal importance, “I do not see the poor first, but Jesus, Jesus suffering in the poor, Jesus who said, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was lonely, I was without shelter, I was abandoned by all… Whatever you did to the least of mine, you did it unto Me.’”
When after taking their vows, they receive their assignments, some young Sisters do feel at times disappointed, “I was assigned to paper work, to write letters and do the typing,” or “I am put in charge of stores, to receive parcels and consignments, to sort them out and distribute the things to various houses.” Yes, this is all part of the game for a religious who carries out the orders of his superiors. A religious belongs to a team; every post must be filled; the whole team works for the poor, serves Christ in the poor. And “Holiness”, stresses Mother, “consists in doing God’s will with a smile.”
One of our Brothers came to me in distress, narrated Mother, and said to me, “My vocation is to work for the lepers.” He added, “I want to spend my whole life, my everything in this vocation.” Then I said to him, “You are making a mistake, Brother; your vocation is to belong to Jesus. He has chosen you for himself and the work you do is only a means to express your love for him in action. Therefore it does not matter what work you are doing; the main thing is that you belong to him, that you are his and that he gives you the means to do this for him?’ Mother concluded, “For all of us, religious, it does not matter what we do or where we are, as long as we remember that we belong to him, that we are his, that he can do with us what he wants.”
All for Jesus
In a talk to the Brothers in Calcutta, Mother said:
“What you do, Brothers, as religious, is
1. from Jesus
2. by Jesus
3. for Jesus.”
We are reminded of Paul writing to the Romans in his beautiful praise of God’s wisdom and goodness, “How rich are the depths of God… All that exists comes from him, all is by him and for him. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:33-36).
Paul insists explicitly on the Trinitarian character. He is conscious of the action of the Father, on account of his Jewish background and also because here he addresses the Jews. Whereas Mother called by Christ to serve him in the poor insists more on the Son of God become man. But the habit of bringing back everything that we do, everything that exists and happens to God, Mother shares with the Apostle. Her vocation comes from Jesus, what she does is through his power, all is for his glory. In her life and that of her nuns, the Lord Jesus becomes the all in all, being its cause, its motive force, its end. All is done for the glory of Jesus who returns the glory to his Father and ours.
Mother expresses it like this:
“What we do is
for Jesus: ours is a life all directed to Jesus, to his service; we live only for him, to serve him and love him, to make him known and loved;
with Jesus: he gives us the strength, the comfort, the happiness of working for him; he is our companion on the road, leading us and instructing us; with Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus, only we have recognised him;
to Jesus: we serve him in the neighbour, see him in the poor, nurse him in the sick; we comfort him in his afflicted brothers and sisters.”
Jesus in the Eucharist
In the Eucharist, called by Newman: “the gift of God’s very self’, Mother sees the acme of humility on the part of Jesus, who becomes truly a thing, a food, so small, so silent, seemingly so powerless, since “where the priest puts him, there he stays.”
Mother sees a challenge in the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus “who makes himself the hungry one,” who comes to ask for our love and service. Christ in the Eucharist challenges, calls, invites. Some souls see it as an invitation of Jesus to stay with him in deep contemplation, in union, fulfilling his request at the Garden, “Stay awake and pray, pray with me, join me in prayer, share my anguish and suffering.” Some are called to be victims with their Lord, offered as the Victim of the sacrifice on the altar, and they respond, “Lord, take me if you will.”
Mother sees still another aspect of the Eucharist,—she has developed the theme hundreds of times: “How great is the love Jesus shows us in the Eucharist. He makes himself the Bread of life to satisfy our hunger for love and then He makes Himself the hungry one so that we can satisfy His love for us.”
And here she sees the “humility of God” who comes as a beggar to ask, who waits for men, makes himself so small, stays so quiet that even children are not afraid; the simple, the uneducated, the barefooted, poorly clad persons can all approach him. And the loving soul, hearing the call to love in return, comes to love the Eucharistic Lord and goes into the world to serve him lovingly “in his distressing disguise”, in the poorest of the poor.
Not only men are hungry for love, but God is hungry for our love. This unfathomable mystery is for Mother a reality she perceives, a call to action she hears.
In the Eucharist Jesus gives us also an example of perfect love; not only is his self-gift total, but he makes it to unworthy men.
Mother underlines strongly a meaning of the Eucharist which she feels very deeply. The love of Christ comes to us as a challenge, as a call, telling us: “I thirst’ even today in my brethren, and I gave you an example that you might imitate what I did for you.
The Eucharist leads us to God and invites us to lead others to God, others hungry for him. The Bread of Life is the Bread of Action.
Mother says, “The meaning of this Eucharist is understanding love. Christ understood. He understood that we have a terrible hunger for God. He understood that we have been created to be loved, and so he made himself a bread of life and he said: unless You eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot live, you cannot love, you cannot serve. You must eat this bread and the goodness of the love of Christ to share his understanding love. He also wants to give us the chance to put our love for him in a living action. He makes himself the hungry one, not only for bread, but for love. He makes himself the naked one, not only for a piece of cloth but for that understanding love, that dignity, human dignity. He makes himself the homeless one, not only for the piece of a small room, but for that deep sincere love for the other, and this is the Eucharist. This is Jesus, the living bread that he has come to break with you and me.”
In the Eucharist Christ teaches us, inspires us, stimulates us. He shows us what he wants us to be and gives us the grace to be just that. Mother sums up what the Gospel of John tells us of Jesus in her characteristic terse, concise, vigorous manner, when she says: “Jesus is pleased to come to us
as the Truth to be told
as the Light to be lighted
as the Love to be loved
as the Way to be walked
as the Joy to be given
as the Peace to be spread
as the Sacrifice to be offered.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest and poet expressed in unforgettable words the wonderful intimacy and unity of Christ and the Christian, when he said of the true Christian that:
“He acts before God what before God he is—Christ?’
Jesus in the Poor
“In Christ,” says Karl Rahner, “the love of God and the neighbour acquires in the person of the one God-man an object, of the highest unity, and as a consequence love for man attains its supreme dignity.” (Sacramentum Mundi, art. Incarnation)
Since Christ has dignified and sanctified mankind by entering into it and redeeming it, every man whoever he be, is an actual or potential sharer in the life of Christ.
And finding Jesus in man in whom he truly lives by grace, we can give to the Infinite God a service of love he accepts willingly. Thus we always have the highest motivation for loving our neighbou1 however unworthy he may seem at first sight. The one to whom the honour is rendered, for whom the service is performed, is no one else than the Infinite Son of God the Father, come into the flesh to sanctify the world and lead it to his Father.
Mother is acutely aware that when she goes to serve the poor, it is to Jesus she betakes herself. One day, in a reflective mood, she asked, “Do you think the Sisters see Jesus in the poor as I do?” The answer she received was, “Mother, we see Jesus in the poor according to the intensity of our faith and the grace God gives us.”
Certainly the Missionaries of Charity receive a special grace, a charisma linked to their fourth vow of life-long free service of the very poor. It obtains for them from God the grace to perform their duty in a spirit of faith. The vow binds them to do for God and his glory actions more difficult, less pleasant to nature, and therefore more perfect. God who inspires the Sisters with the desire to take this vow and accepts their commitment, will also help them to carry it out in a spirit of faith. Hence they will normally be helped to see Jesus in the poor they serve.
The Name of Jesus
Mother and her Sisters like to say “Jesus” rather than Christ or our Lord. They use habitually the personal, intimate, holy Name:
Jesus wants you, Jesus calls you, Jesus loves you, serve Jesus, find Jesus in the poor, all we do is for Jesus.
This way of speaking puts them in a relation of intimate friendship with the Lord whom they serve, to whom they have consecrated their whole lives. Jesus is the name chosen by God the Father for his Son, the name revealed by the angel, the name by which his Mother called her divine Son. This name we cannot pronounce with faith unless the Spirit of God moves us. This name has power; it puts devils and evil spirits to flight; this name brings us salvation.
The name Christ expresses the function of the Saviour; the name Jesus his person. Christ sounds more official; Jesus more intimate, affectionate, full of trust in him who said, “I call you no more servants, but friends, beloved” (John 15:15). Jesus revealed to his own his intimate thoughts that they might share them.
Jesus is the Bridegroom’s name. That the Sisters use it commonly in India to address One to whom they are mystically wedded for life, is all the more striking that Hindu wives never pronounce the name of their husbands. They are strictly forbidden to utter it, on religious and social grounds, because the name is said to hold power, the person’s power, which no wife may arrogate to herself or try to steal. If the wife is forbidden to utter the name of the husband whom she must obey, the devotee is advised to repeat thousands of times the name of his favourite deity.
For the Christian the divine Name has power, gives strength, and expresses love. The prayer of the Name is common in India. Many Christians practise it several hours a day, as has been the habit also of the monks of Mount Athos for centuries. This easy, simple, affective, unitive manner of praying may lead to contemplation the soul that has made it a habit to call on the Name of the Beloved often during the day and night.
Mother has the love of St Bernard and St Bemardine of Siena for the name of Jesus. She shares the love of the great Abbot of Clairvaux for Jesus and Mary. She speaks continually of Jesus; his name is music to her ear, honey to her tongue, a presence always living in her heart. She must speak of him, sing his praises. She is not happy if time goes by without the name of her Beloved being mentioned.
Mother’s spirituality is incarnational, stressing the human aspect of the presence of the Son of God in the world. When saying “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,” she usually adds “Jesus”. “He gave us his only Son, Jesus.” To Jesus she can cling. He is the Spouse to whom she has consecrated her entire being, who lives in the Eucharistic Bread, who suffers in the poor and lonely, who has drawn her to himself.